TAMPA — This was the 11th time Susan Cook had gone to lunch to give money to a stranger, to tell that person what the gift means.
She waited in a crowded banquet hall, surrounded by College of Business students at the University of South Florida, all of them in fine clothes, looking like the future.
They were about to receive $350,000 worth of scholarships donated mostly by companies like Allstate and the Bank of Tampa. But a few of the scholarships in the pot had been pulled together by individuals like Cook.
Cook's was named for her late husband: the Bo Cook Memorial Endowed Scholarship in Marketing. It was for $1,500. It has never been for a lot of money. The first year it was for $500. Another year, it was for $350. Over the years the gifts have added up to $15,000.
Each time, Susan Cook wanted the student getting it to know that this was not a corporation's gift. It was the gift of one man, one teacher.
"Far better," Cook said, "than flowers on a grave."
Bo Cook was an ad man. He was proud of that. He believed his job was to inform. Susan Cook, 66, said he had a mantra: "Provide a good product and the sales takes care of itself."
He'd been a company vice president, he'd started his own consulting business, he'd worked on ad campaigns for Tampa politicians and his first love, the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team. He'd taught at USF.
He died of a brain tumor in 1991. He was 47. Students in the College of Business came to his widow with $250. They asked her to start a scholarship in his name.
Susan Cook wanted a scholarship that would last in perpetuity. Family members and friends added to the $250 stake. They raised money for five years until it had grown into an endowment that could pay for itself.
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Octavia Lloyd of Valrico was this year's recipient. When she approached Cook's table last Friday, she had that look of past recipients — all bright energy and hope. She's a junior in the College of Business. She'd received other scholarships. This was the first time she'd met the donor.
She told Cook that she knew she wanted a marketing career since high school. That sounded like Cook's husband.
"What I believe is," Lloyd said, "quality sells."
"My husband would have said that," Cook said.
Cook and Lloyd posed for a photo. Cook wanted it for her desk. Over the years, she has posed with all 11 of the Bo Cook scholarship winners. Seeing their faces on her desk reminds her that her husband's memorial is not just money, but a living tribute.
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So what would Bo Cook have said? What would he have told Octavia Lloyd, who wants everything he wanted?
His widow turned toward the young lady who was just turning 20.
"He'd have said, 'What else can I do for you?' "
John Barry can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2258.